Dead skin cells don't absorb moisture well, so exfoliating prepares your skin to get the most out of your moisturizer. Exfoliating exposes fresh skin that is better able to soak up moisturizer; however, to pick the best type of moisturizer for your skin, you need to know what varieties are out there.
So what do moisturizers do for skin? Normally, the middle layer of your skin, called the dermis, passes water up to the outer layer, or the epidermis. Once it reaches the surface, water then evaporates. When the amount of water is too low, however, your skin will start to dry out. That water then evaporates. Moisturizer helps the epidermis hold onto water -- and a healthy glow -- for longer [source: Skin Care Guide].
Moisturizers line drugstore shelves and department store counters. Although the number of ingredients may seem dizzying, the main ingredients in most moisturizers are humectants and emollients. Humectants draw water from the air to your skin and help keep it there. This is great if you live in a very humid climate, but humectants don't do much in dry weather. Urea, glycerin and alpha hydroxy acids are examples of humectants.
Emollients, on the other hand, sink into the spaces between skin cells and help replace the lipids that make your skin look healthier [source: Mayo Clinic]. Emollients include oils from plants, minerals and animals, as well as shea butter, cocoa butter, petrolatum, cholesterol and silicones. Water-based moisturizers are lighter and lack the greasy residue of oil-based moisturizers, but they do not last as long.
More expensive products are not necessarily better. Try a few different moisturizers until you find one that works well for you. You may want to consult a dermatologist to learn about the best moisturizers available. If you have any concerns about ingredients, test the moisturizer on a small patch of skin for a reaction before applying it to your entire face. When using moisturizer, be sure to apply it when your skin is still damp to help trap water in those skin cells.
Sometimes, exfoliating and moisturizing aren't enough. In the next section, you'll learn about the available medical options meant to brighten your complexion.